Birch Aquarium at Scripps

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Located on a hilltop that overlooks the Scripps Institute of Oceanography campus at UC San Diego and the Pacific Ocean, the Birch Aquarium at Scripps is a massive 64,150 square feet and features 175,000 gallons of seawater that is home to over 3,000 animals representing 380 species. A visit to the Birch Aquarium will include participation in one of the world’s most renowned programs for oceanic education and preservation and lead to a new appreciation of the marvels that the marine world has to offer. It is truly a must-see San Diego destination.


The history of the Birch Aquarium can be traced back more than 100 years to the Marine Biological Association of San Diego, which was founded in 1903. With the mission to study and report on the local marine life found in the Pacific Ocean. They maintained a small aquarium to help defray their costs. Soon, the Society was renamed the Scripps Institution of Oceanography after financial supporters Ellen Browning and E.W. Scripps. And after quickly outgrowing their initial location of the boathouse at the Hotel del Coronado, the Scripps Institute moved to a new site in La Jolla Cove in 1905. Later, is relocated once again to a 174 acre lot in La Jolla Shores. This spot, which houses what is now known as the Old Scripps Building, was notable enough to be entered onto the National Register of Historic Places. Also included at the Scripps campus is the first purpose built aquarium which opened in 1915.

The aquarium that most people know today was actually opened in 1951 and was named for former Scripps director T. Wayland Vaughan. The facility was an immediate tourist favorite, with the guest book boasting a signature from residents of all 48 states within the first month. The popularity of the aquarium grew rapidly and in 1985 it was ready to expand again. The initial financial investment of the Steven and Mary Birch Foundation set in motion the fundraising efforts for the building that would become the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, located at Expedition Way in La Jolla, CA. Opening its doors in 1992, the new Birch Aquarium was located just up the hill from the Scripps Campus on land donated by UC San Diego.

On average, 435,000 visitors walk through the doors at Birch Aquarium each year. This includes well over 40,000 school children who seize the opportunity to learn at such an old and well-established aquarium. Over the years, Birch has won several awards in recognition of its contributions to the cultural environment of the San Diego area. This includes winning the prize for Best Museum in San Diego in the annual A-List poll for both 2011 and 2012.

Main Attraction

Immediately upon entering the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, visitors will be transported into an undersea wonderland. The museum and aquarium is designed around a central lobby that leads to a series of exhibit halls featuring favorites like The Hall of Fish and Shark Reef as well as some special exhibits such as There’s Something about Seahorses, Feeling the Heat: The Climate Change, and the newest addition to Birch, Boundless Energy. The last of these, Boundless Energy, is a unique exhibit at an aquarium. Debuted in July 2011, it is an outdoor playground designed to show visitors all the ways that natural forces can be used as power in our everyday lives. This includes interactive exhibits as well as a play area for kids.

In addition to their regular exhibits, Birch Aquarium at Scripps is an active player in the education of local San Diego students as well as visitors from around the world. The sponsor one of the richest school programs in the area which include classes, outreach, teacher resources, and more. They are also closely tied to the post-secondary educational community because of their association with Scripps Institute for Oceanography and UCSD. Because of this, Birch is able to provide public programs as well as resources for college students and professors.

Why It’s a Must-See

At its heart, Birch Aquarium at Scripps is much more than just another San Diego area museum. As the public center for one of the most well-known and prestigious oceanographic institutes in the world Birch takes its role as an educator and role model seriously. The true value of visiting Birch Aquarium cannot be summed up any better than in its own mission statement: “To provide ocean science education, interpret Scripps Institution of Oceanography research, and promote ocean conservation.” A visit to Birch is one of the most enriching, educational, and fun opportunities in all of San Diego.

Where to Buy It

There are a number of ways you can enjoy admission to this attraction.

Save up to 20% online at Smart Destinations. If you add more than one attraction to the cart, you will get an automatic savings of up to 20%. It’s called Make Your Own Pass.

Pay Full Price and purchase a ticket from Birch Aquarium at Scripps either online or in person.

Purchase a Tourist pass. The Birch Aquarium is available on the Go San Diego Card.